Weekly Bible Devotional
“What Is Saving Your Life Right Now? Saying No”
June 7, 2020
Scripture for Sunday: Exodus 20:8-11
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Notes on the Text:
This week’s text is a part of the Ten Commandments. The context for the giving of the Ten Commandments was the time when the people of Israel left Egypt where they were slaves and before they had entered into the Land of Promise (their new home). These commandments were guidelines for the best ways to live in their new home and under the rule of God. They were to live and create a society that was not run by the values of scarcity, oppression, and exploitation. They needed these teachings so that they may not have the same mindsets about the economy and society being built on ways that disadvantaged the vulnerable and benefited only the few at the top. One of the challenges of the slavery was not being able to have a day of rest. Taking care of your personal needs and having fun would not have been allowed as one’s sole purpose would have been to produce. For a people who were used to seeing themselves as commodities, as their slave owners saw them, this commandment was essential. It was not just about taking a day off from work. It was about stopping work and aligning one’s life with God’s vision. In his book, Sabbath as Resistance, biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “Thus I have come to think that the fourth commandment on sabbath is the most difficult and most urgent of the commandments in our society, because it summons us to intent and conduct that defies the most elemental requirements of a commodity-propelled society that specializes in control and entertainment, bread and circuses & along with anxiety and violence.” For the people of Israel Sabbath keeping was not about learning to take a day off during the week. It was about learning to live a life of trust in God, a life of freedom and wholeness that was very different from their experience of slavery in Egypt. For their time in Egypt of over four hundred years, the ancient Israelites lived by the values of Pharaoh. Their days of slavery in Egypt were days of hard labor and humiliation. In his book, Peace, Walter Brueggemann gives a powerful metaphor for the experience of the Israelites in Egypt: “The Brickyard.” As anyone who has read Exodus 5 knows, the children of Israel were slaves to Pharaoh. They made bricks for Egypt. “A brickyard is a place of competent production. It is where bricks are made to specification and on schedule . . . The brickyard is also a place of coercion and profit.. . .the brickyard is a place of unhappiness, oppression, and, of course, enormous hostility . . . Not only must we produce for the others, but there is no prospect, not in our wildest imagination, that things are ever going to change. There will never be enough bricks to meet the quota.” Walter Brueggemann states that Sabbath rest is about, “withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being” (Journey to the Common Good, 26). The Israelites had been schooled in the way of anxiety. The Sabbath was God’s strategy to teach them a new way of life. As slaves, the people of Israel forgot about the original goodness of creation and lived under the oppression of forced labor. They needed to reclaim the goodness of their own life. Their sense of wholeness was at stake. That is why the practice of Sabbath was essential for their health as a people. It was not about luxury living and having time to play. It was about the essence of who they were as the people of God.
Sabbath keeping was also extended to a sabbatical year which was to be practiced every seven years. Leviticus 25:1-7 gives specific instructions about this kind of year, “For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.” And the Israelites were supposed to eat whatever the land produced voluntarily, “Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you -for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.” The Sabbatical year practice was also to be extended to a jubilee on the 50th year. So this would become a Sabbatical Jubilee where all debts would be forgiven, people freed, and the land would rest. When Jesus began his ministry, he called for a year of Jubilee (Luke 4).
The command to keep the Sabbath holy is so relevant to our time because the main focus of our society is on production. People’s value is often reduced to what they can produce. We have to relearn the lessons and wisdom of this commandment.
It is easy to like most of the Ten Commandments: Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t cheat, don’t swear, and love God and your neighbor. But the one about keeping Sabbath is pretty tough to follow for most of us. In theory, keeping the Sabbath does not sound like a very tough challenge, but in practice, it is very tough when we are trying to fulfill the many demands that are put on our lives. The pressure to produce or consume, there is always of sense of restlessness among and within us when we stop producing and consuming. Production and consumption are not bad, but when they are not balanced with rest, they end up producing so much anxiety and dissatisfaction in us. They rob us of our sense of original goodness and of being children of God.
It is important that we not only cease work, but also consumption for one day. Once a week, we are invited to just be, to value life over stuff! In a strange way, this pandemic provided us with a forced Sabbath. We are not only pausing our work, but we are also not consuming as much. In his book, Sabbath, Wayne Muller writes, “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath- our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us. It is interesting to consider this for us as a whole world. The coronavirus is forcing us to slow down because we have refused to do that before.”
The pressure to produce and consume has also led to massive economic injustice and exploitation of people in our world throughout history. In fact, much of the racism we have in our own country is deeply rooted in a system of economic imbalance and injustice. Sabbath rest is about learning to live by the values of God’s abundance. It is what you might want to call “Sabbath Economics” where justice, abundance, and compassion work hand in hand with productivity and hard work to transform our living into the kingdom of God.
“When we keep the Sabbath holy, we are practicing for a day, the freedom that God intends for all people.” -Dorothy Bass
“Sabbath observance invites us to stop. It invites us to rest. It asks us to notice that while we rest, the world continues without our help. It invites us to delight in the world’s beauty and abundance.” -Wendell Berry
Prayer by Arianne Lehn:
When I begin to feel the fears rise
and the pressures push
me toward that cursed corner –
the dark and crushing space
saying, “it all depends on me”-
help me rise.
Lift me out and above
this swirl of deceptions, God,
and remind me I am not alone,
or expected to know everything.
My eyes just need to be in the right place.
Reground my understanding
that while I am called to faithfulness
with what I have,
where I am,
the make-or-break power of my days
is beyond my skill.
Give me one reminder this week, God,
of your presence in the details,
Just enough to shake me from
this stupor of self-reliance.
I commit today’s work to you,
and thank you in advance for what you’ll
make of it. Amen.